Following on from the confirmation on Friday (March 6th) that Chris Dyson would be the third driver in RML AD Group’s Lola-Mazda Coupé for Le Mans 2009, the team took a very disciplined approach to the ACO’s official Le Mans Series test at the Paul Ricard circuit.
Under the direction of Phil Barker, Team Manager at RML, the team embarked on a clearly-defined structure for the two-day test, concentrating on set-up and balance throughout Sunday’s two daylight sessions. The aim was to amass as much data as possible in the first day, to be analysed and employed in the team’s preparation for the 24 Hours in June. Then, on Monday, the emphasis was on addressing the issue of driver comfort in the Lola-Mazda’s cockpit – a challenge made more acute by Chris Dyson’s 6’2” (1.88m) frame, which contrasts somewhat with that of Thomas Erdos at 5’6” (1.67m).
“It’s not really a major issue,” insists the Brazilian, who carried out all but a small handful of the car’s eighty-lap Sunday run. “Chris is used to the Lola, since he races the same basic chassis in the States, but there is a height differential between us. This has been the first opportunity for us to address the question of seat and pedal positions. Looking ahead to Le Mans, where we may be expected to complete double or triple stints, it will be even more important that we are all 100% comfortable in the car. It’s worth taking the time now to ensure that’s the case.”
“Although taking away a lot of the potential running time on Sunday, it was invaluable to be able to validate the initial seating position for both Chris and myself,” said Mike Newton, CEO of AD Group. “We already have a car that the two of us can share without seat inserts or belt changes, which is a huge bonus. We have completed the optimisation of the pedal positions, so that just leaves the task of building a suitable insert for Tommy.”
Sunday went especially well, with the red, white and blue Lola (now sporting a new shade in concession to Mazda’s involvement in the project) third-fastest in LMP2 in the opening session, and then second quickest in the afternoon. “It’s been a good day’s work,” suggested Erdos. “We had a series of options that we needed to work through in order to achieve a good base set-up, and we can then build on that, knowing that the car is already settled, solid, and behaving exactly as it should. Towards the end of the day it all came together very nicely, and we moved second quickest in P2. It’s a shame there aren’t more of our class of cars here this weekend, so that we can gain a better understanding of where we stand, but some of the front-runners are present, and that’s offered us a useful benchmark to work against. To be as close to the pace as we appear to be, when we’re not working on a set-up specifically for this track, is encouraging.”
The team had concentrated on attuning the car to the circuit’s mile-long Mistral Straight and fast right-hand Signes curve, which closely mimic the conditions they will encounter at Le Mans. Knowing that they will never race at Paul Ricard allowed them to compromise the car’s balance through some of the other sectors, so outright lap times were never on the agenda. “All round, it’s been very successful,” was Phil Barker’s assessment. “We’ve made considerable progress with the base handling of the car and satisfied our intention of establishing a good low-downforce setting for Le Mans in June. We tried various changes during the course of the first two sessions, and we’re now very happy with where we’re at.”
Having devoted the Monday to seat fitting and ergonomics, the Lola-Mazda B09/86 only completed a further 25 laps, with Mike Newton and Chris Dyson taking turns at fine-tuning their seating positions. “Despite the very limited running, Chris and I were both encouraged by the immediately very respectable times, endorsing the excellent progress made in set-up on the Sunday by Phil and Tommy. It was our first opportunity to work together with Chris directly, and we all enjoyed the experience and immediately meshed well as a team. The two days leaves us hugely encouraged for both the season ahead and Le Mans."
In the light of last year’s less than auspicious start to the 2008 season, when the team's MG EX265 blew two engines during the same pre-season test, Paul Ricard 2009 has been a complete contrast. “The Mazda engine has been perfect. It’s run faultlessly throughout,” said Erdos. “The whole package remains very new to us, of course, and there’s so much still to learn, but we couldn’t have had a more encouraging start to our season.”
The team plans several further tests before Le Mans in June, but is now concentrating on preparation for Round 1 of the Le Mans Series in Barcelona next month.